Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Time warp

Last night, I went to the '70s, or a version of it in which everyone speaks Serbian.

There was a workshop in my office last night at 6. I didn't know it was going to happen until 5pm when someone told me. I decided to attend, even though I had no idea of the topic. The leader is a woman that I like.

The whole thing felt like a second-wave feminist consciousness raising. The kind of things I've only read about because they seem so hokey to our modern western sensibilities. We started by going around the circle to introduce ourselves and say if there is any part of our body that we could love more. The leader was very deliberate in pointing out that 'loving more' is not the same as 'wanting it to look better' & challenged everyone who said things like "I wish I had a smaller stomach" with "but do you love your stomach now?"

That accomplished, we moved on to talking about emotions. We were given a worksheet on which we had to plot our level of happiness, joy, friendship love, humor, etc. The second half of the worksheet asked us about the source of emotions - do we make ourselves happy or depend on others?, etc. We then formed pairs and discussed what we wrote. I ended up talking about Nirvana and Pearl Jam (which is much preferrable to the SuperSonics as a response when I say I'm from Seattle).

The moral of that exercise: we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react. (I learned how to say 'free will' in Serbian.)

We concluded the workshop by listening to people talk about bad experiences from their childhood. I couldn't figure out the message from that activity.

My main lesson of the evening is that I shouldn't drink hot wine before sitting in a hot room listening to people speak a language I only partially understand. I nearly fell asleep - which would have been horrible. I'm sure everyone noticed my struggle to keep my eyes open as they discussed the traumatic childhoods - classy.

Friday, January 27, 2006

movie night

I went to the Yugoslav Film Museum Wednesday night to see 'Dogville.' The sound was terrible, (in parts, I read the subtitles) although the movie was interesting. I can't really get behind the 'people are terrible' theme and the sets (or lack thereof) was bizarre and distracting. More people walked out in the first 10 minutes during this movie than at any other movie I have seen.

(Some time ago, my brother told me that while he was working at a movie theater, 'Moulin Rouge' was the movie for which the most people demanded a refund of their tickets. Do people really hate Nicole Kidman that much?)

Probably my favorite thing about the outing was the crowd. They were all young and looked Portland-ish (not quite right, but as close as I believe is possible in this part of the world). We stood assembled in the lobby waiting for the theater to open & I pondered ways to make them become my friends. I'm not quite sure how to best do that - asking if a chair is free in my bad Serbian & hoping they strike up a conversation with the strange foreigner, perhaps? - The door had openned and we all took our seats before I tried to strike up a conversation.

It is reassuring to know that such groups exist, that they assemble a very short walk from my house, and that movie admission is something that I can easily afford (about $1.50).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The sound of my voice

My brother podcasted me. [Is that the proper usage of 'podcast'?] Hear me talk about Serbian politics (which I think is mostly accurate), religion, and junk food here.

Many thanks to the brother for editing it so I sound so smart and coherent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


On Saturday, I was wandering around a recently discovered open air market buying walnuts and stoppers to catch bits food before it goes down my kitchen sink, hatless and comfortable.

On Monday it turned cold, what feels like 'St. Paul cold' to me, although I just checked and it is 20 degrees F warmer at 7:30 in the morning in St. Paul than it is at 2:30 in the afternoon here. It's the kind of cold in which wet hair freezes to your head. It's the kind of cold that keeps me from leaving the house, staying in to watch the nightly 7 o'clock commercial-free movie that one of the local TV stations broadcasts. (It's a curious selection: yesterday -- Crossroads, the day before -- Gosford Park.)

Yes, not a very exciting update, but the life isn't super exciting at this point.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


My wallet is thinner, but I will have a new visa tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Law and Order: Serbian Visa Unit

Between traveling, my inability to follow the European style of writing dates (I thought 2.1.2006 was February 2nd, not January 1st), and laziness, I didn't renew my student visa in time. (Although, because of my traveling, I currently have tourist status - no danger of deportation.)

So I spent this morning at the ministry for foreigners with Lj, a coworker, trying to sort things out. We waited in a lot of lines, met with a lot of people, and filled out a form or two, and tried to figure out what was going on.

The good result: I can pick up my passport complete with new shiny student visa on Thursday morning.

The bad result: I ended up with a court date. In 3.5 hours, I will be in court -- with Lj again - where they will decide what my fine will be. If I understood the conversation correctly, it will be somewhere between $7 and $55. Lj's a talker, so I have high hopes.

once was lost. . .

My wallet was lost/stolen on the bus back from the airport after picking R up on the day after Christmas. I didn't lose a lot of money, but it was an annoyance, trying to figure out how to cancel an ATM card and whatnot. I had my driver's licence in there as well, which would be quite a pain to replace, given that I don't live in Oregon anymore.

About a week later, my wallet reappeared. Someone saw my 'foreigner registration card' and turned in the wallet - sans cash, of course -- to the police for foreigners. They were able to track me down through my registered host. We went to pick it up this morning. Now I have my driver's license, a cancelled ATM card, and most strangely, all of the coins that were in my wallet when I lost it.

As my mom said, "it's nice to think that you live in a place where someone would turn in your wallet to the police."


The brother was in town for the weekend, which was lovely.

He likes sports, among other things. After checking out my This Month in Belgrade brochure, we decided to go to a basketball game on Saturday night. We web searched to make sure that there was a game & to figure out where it was. We could find the time, but couldn't figure out if it was a home or away game. The brochure said it was, so we decided to walk to the sports hall and try our luck.

I got a bit turned around of the way there, but we found it with a few minutes to spare. We couldn't figure out where to buy tickets, so we just walked in. I asked the security guard where to buy tickets & he told me that entry was free. So we entered to find ourselves at the beginning of the second half of a handball game, Serbia v. Denmark.

We found seats and watched. My new vocabulary (rukomet=handball) came in mindly useful. It's been a long time since I watched a sport about which I knew nothing. The brother gained knowledge of the sport in Sweden, so that helped some.

Denmark won easily.

After the game, we came home & saw the game that we thought we were going to see on TV. It was in Croatia.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

not sportsfans

The geniuses who devised my language book decided that today is the first of 3 days devoted to sports.

None of the students present today -- me, a Chinese woman, a girl from Cyprus -- would be able to carry on an hour and a half sports conversation in our native languages. "I like baseball even though I rarely go to games and don't follow it much." "I played volleyball in high school." "Ping pong is very popular in China." was about all we had to say. Add in a language barrier & we were mute and unmotivated.

Our teacher was not, though. We learned all about Red Star Belgrade's world championship in 1991 & how the Serbian basketball team is excellent. He quizzed the Chinese woman on all things Yao Ming and looked quite disappointed when I couldn't name the best American tennis players.

two more days of this. . . at least it is nice to have a set of vocabulary that I won't use and therefore don't have to study. . .

Monday, January 09, 2006

Saturday in Sofia

Two very strange things happened in Sofia on Saturday. Descriptions follow:

1. I had my fortune told by a guinea pig. A man on the street had two guinea pigs in a giant water bottle with wood shavings in the bottom. My guides (the peace corpsers) asked if I wanted my fortune told. I did. I gave the man about 60 cents and he let me pick which guinea pig I wanted to fortell my future. I picked the calico-looking one (can guinea pigs be calico or is it only cats?) He lifted it out of it's home & set it before what looked like a pre-computer era library card catalog. On the third try, the guinea pig selected a card (they were actually small envelopes with slips of paper inside). Over dinner, a companion traslated the card for me. I will fall in love. I will be successful in business. I should always support my children. Good to know.

2. I learned that dustbusters are not exclusively used for cleaning floors in Bulgaria. The five of us all went out for a traditional Bulgarian meal. It was delicious, making me wish that Serbia had things like eggplants this time of year. We ate a baba ghanoush-esque spread, salads, deep fried beans (so delicious!), and yogurt cheese. After the meal, we ordered desserts. Before the waitress brought us our ice cream, fig pie, and the Bulgarians take on flan, she cleared the table. Part of that clearing involved dustbusting the table to rid it of all of the crumbs we dropped. It was very hard to not laugh at this spectacle and we succeeded marginally. I held my water glass to my face and watched the Bulgarian folk dances on the TV behind me.

So very strange, this Bulgaria.


F. R. and I watched the Plovdivians celebrate St. John the Baptist Day last Friday. It was strange.

Read R's take on it here.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Greetings from lovely, rainy Plovdiv. It rains like Seattle here, which is comforting.

R, F, and I made it into Bulgaria, despite some drama at the border. First, our train was 45 minutes late leaving the station. (And I was even able to decode & understand the garbled only-in-Serbian announcement over the station's PA system.) At 5 in the morning, a Bulgarian border guard came onto our train - her yelling could be heard long before she reached us. We had to get off the train & stand in a little building beside the tracks. A Maltese-American fellow traveller assured us that such things happened to him the week before. We were handed slips of paper & told to fill them out. It would have been nice if they had told us before we were dragged off the train that we would be needing a pen. So we stood there dumbly, preparing to be yelled at again. And we were. Finally, we were offered a pen, along with a scowl.

Forms filled out and passports scanned, we were back on the train. We arrived in Sofia 2.5 hours late, but otherwise without incident. A bus ride spent listening to the mix given to me by the brother brought us to the rainy delights and good company (some Peace Corps-ing friends) of Plovdiv.

Monday, January 02, 2006

srecna nova godina (that's happy new year)

I'm back from tripping through Bosnia & Hercegovina, with a newly thought up analogy.

Bosnia is to Serbia as Canada is to the US.
Bosnia & Serbia are largely similar places. Their history, geography, & language are linked, but not identical.

After the Romanian adventure, it was nice to be traveling somewhere where I could understand a bit more of what was going on, where the food was largely familiar, where I could speak the language a bit (even if naming said language is a political act). I took to saying 'the language' & not trying to guess if I should say Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian.

and up next: Bulgaria
fuller reports: eventually